Friday, 25 May 2012

Does she take sugar?

How to annoy a wheelchair user.

"Does she take sugar" and variations thereof. The message of exclusion, and inferiority of the person with a disability.

But a few weeks ago I learned something interesting.

I was at a E's 30th Birthday party. There was a Disco, we danced to cheesy music and had a great time. E is also a wheelchair user. We were the only two wheelies there. There were a mix of people on the dance floor, but part way through I realised something. I was monopolising the birthday girl. It wasn't deliberate, it was just that she was on my level - eye contact was natural and easy. Someone to laugh with at song choice, or sing along with, someone to make comments to about the event, the music, the other dancers - whatever.

Even when dancing in a small group, my comments were usually made to E. Talking to the 'tall people' was much more effort so without thinking, my comments, grins and interactions all happened on my level.

In breaks between dancing I sat with various groups of people - who were sitting down, and enjoyed it. And so did they - I think :D

Then it hit me:
'Does she take sugar' might sometimes be a statement of assumption that I am inferior, but how often is it an unconscious act of 'eye contact on my level' rather than 'person with a disability is a non-person'? Had I been guilty of the same? Had I been sending out messages that said 'I exclude you from my conversation for being a non-wheelie'?

So I put some effort in to including those non-wheelie people in my happy little dancing world. It was fun, but surprisingly hard work to remember to look up with my smart comment -rather than just catch E's eye and throw the comment across.

And now? I determine to remember whenever there is a 'Does she take sugar' moment, that perhaps it is a 'dancing at my height moment' and not assume I am in the company of a prejudice ejit - just someone who, like me, subconciously chooses to comment to someone at their own level. Yes I may take steps to include myself in the conversation, or gently remind them of my presence - but not out of anger or bitterness.

Because, after all, if I behave in exactly the same way - without any intention of upsetting or belittling, who am I to take offence?

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Disability Fair, 9th May

Oxford Disability Fair was fun.

I reckon I had the happiest stall. Certainly the brightest and most colourful. Probably the most immature.

I got to speak to quite a few disability related organisations, and got some wonderful feedback. It seems that there are lots of people who like my sense of humour and my stickmen were much loved. Plus, of course, I got to tell people about the amazing-ness of the HMSA and Whizz-Kidz.

Not all feedback was positive. One lady thought the communication card about hearing impairment (Here) was insulting and implied that people with impaired hearing couldn't do anything.....which struck me as a very odd interpretation. If people think that is the message it conveys, please tell me so I can adjust it! If it was just a random strange misunderstanding I'll leave it as it is.

I informed the photographer from the Oxford Mail that I was a genius and needed photographing for the front page. I didn't make the front page, but I did make it into the paper. I totally wasn't with it when the journalist called the next day - but hey, they managed to make a decent article.

Well, relatively. I had my wheelchair sign "The Sky is my Limit" on my chair, and the article was titled: "Visitors told there's no limits for disabled" - which mildly annoys me. I do have limits, but that doesn't mean I can't fly. But hey, it's not bad for an article written after interviewing me when I could scarcely string a sentence together. (Sorry Mr. Journalist for being very dull on the phone. Hopefully if we speak again I will be more awake.)

As an event it wasn't brilliantly attended - although there was a lovely atmosphere. I suspect this may be because the location was....interesting. Personally, if running a disability event, onsite parking would be a top priority. As would level access without needing to press a button to call someone to open the coded door. As would big signs showing where the lift was. But there we go, as the first event of it's type for some time it was always going to be a learning experience for the organisers.

I appreciated the quiet patches though. It gave me the chance to lie on the floor and rest periodically. Even wearing my cooling vest I'm not sure I'd have got through it otherwise. This amused the stallholders opposite (OMEGA  - a local ME/CFS support group, really lovely people) who got to talk to my boots instead of my face. They worked on a shift system so none of them did too much - I may try that next time. And they loved my Communication Cards. Which of course means that they must be intelligent people with an excellent sense of humour.

I only resorted to Communication Card usage once all day, although by the time I got home speaking was not an option.

My energy was still missing on Thursday, but I'd had fun and I'm sure I'll do it again.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Disabilty Athletics Challenge, 8th May 2012

Last Tuesday I went to the Olypmic Stadium in London to watch the Disability Athletics Challenge event and shout myself hoarse for Jack Binstead and Hannah Cockroft.

Having researched public transport I opted for 'Little Brother' chauffeur service. Driving was fine except that roadworks plus traffic accidents meant I missed Jack's wheelie sprint. Sulk.

Once parked, a truly beautifully smooth pavement sweeping down the bridge over the railway line made up for the 2km trek from car to the stadium and the trek around the massive site.

(golf buggies are available onsite as are handy helpers with spare wheelchairs to help those who struggle to walk long distances but don't have wheels of their own)

The wheelie spaces were great - a mix of wide spaces and small groups of seats, so that groups of friends could sit together whatever the mix of mobility requirements. And the loos were close and spacious.

The stadium was mostly empty - only a few blocks had people in, but the acoustics were great. The atmosphere in that stadium when it's full will be INCREDIBLE! Even with the empty seats, there was plenty of noise as Hannah Cockroft broke the 100m T54 world record. The first record ever to be set in that stadium. I'd like to think it was cos I yelled 'GO HANNAH'. It may possibly be more to do with her hard work.

It was the first world record to be set in that stadium, and I was there. I saw it, I cheered it, and am in awe of the skill and hard work that went into it. GO HANNAH!!

Having got over my disappointment at missing Jack's race, I was SURE Jack was sitting in the next wheelchair bay. He was gone when I looked up next, but I sidled over to the chap he'd been chatting with (Andy) and discovered Jack had gone to prepare for his next race. I'd get to yell 'GO JACK' after all. Perfect.

Somehow conversation ended up inventing a new wheelchair event that combined 'oscar legs' (the prosthetic 'blades' like those worn by the South African runner, Oscar Pistorius) and ski-poles...and hurdles.

I blame Andy.

We hadn't got round to sorting the landing technique before reality returned as Jack appeared on the track. Racing against David Weir in the T54 1500m. AWESOME. Jack beat his previous PB by about half a minute! Well impressive. And I got to yell loads.

I met Jack afterwards. Totally mad, funny - and just as I expected :D Although I did sit there thinking "I am so OLD!!" :D

And unexpectedly meeting a good friend when leaving the stadium was a lovely end to the day.

A really fun day. Cheering for athletes of such calibre, and being there to see such performances was just brilliant.